Friday, September 24, 2004

Style vs. Substance

Fish conducted an interesting in-class assignment in a freshman rhetoric course in which speeches by Bush and Kerry were analyzed. Bush won out on style; or rather he won on the simplicity of his statements and the unsophisticated logic of his arguments. Now if only someone would pay for some basic diction lessons. And perhaps some lectures on culture as well as meditation classes. Then even I too would consider casting a vote for Bush.

With my car in the shop and my plans to attend the student-faculty mixer this afternoon slipping down on my list of priorities, I'm slowly giving in to the tiredness from cleaning the living room this morning. Can't imagine how I could read and study today, but maybe after a little nap I'll be recharged. Every now and then a gust of wind blows some leaves down from the trees. It looks and feels autumnal despite the heat. Last night--when the car wouldn't start and I had to cancel my 6:00 class--I sat on the sofa and longed to be anywhere but here, where I would be able to either take a bus to work and arrive in a reasonable amount of time or afford the cab fare to campus. Working as a 2nd class college instructor is wearing me down, and I'm even more determined to find a fulltime teaching position, giving up (or rather upgrading) my 2 part-time positions for a decent salary and some benefits.

While cleaning I listened to the Franz Ferdinand CD over and over. I like this album a lot, but every time I try to hum or sing the songs I automatically switch to something by the Talking Heads ("Pull Up the Roots") or the Dead Milkmen ("Beach Song") .

Speaking of the Dead Milkmen and Franz Ferdinand, here's an excerpt from "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)."

Okay, look at you
Don't you look like Siouxsie Sioux
How long did it take to get that way
What a terrible waste of energy
You wear black clothes say you're poetic
The sad truth is you're just pathetic
Get into the groove get out of my way
I came here to drink not to get laid
Don't try to tell me that you're an intellectual
Cause you're just another boring bisexual
("I met Andy Warhol at a really chic party")
Blow it out your hairdoo cause you really work at Hardees
80 pounds of make up on your art school skin
80 points of I.Q. located within

You'll dance to anything by the Communards
You'll dance to anything by Book of Love
You'll dance to anything by The Smiths
You'll dance to anything by Depeche Mode
You'll dance to anything by Public Image Limited
You'll dance to anything by Naked Truth
You'll dance to anything by any bunch of stupid Europeans who come over here with their big hairdoos bent on taking OUR money instead of giving your cash, where it belongs, to a decent American artist like myself! You'll dance to anything!
Ah, that takes me back ... to listening to Franz Ferdinand this morning....

Thursday, September 23, 2004

What Problem?

"How do you intend to resolve problems by allowing half-nude women to mingle and party with men who dress like women?"
Eshrat Shaegh, one of the women elected to Iran’s Parliament, commenting on women who show too much hair and men who wear colorful clothes.
What problems could possibly arise between half-nude women and men who dress like women? Jealousy?

It's important to remember that today is my friend Olja's birthday. Happy birthday. I'm sorry we won't be able to celebrate this year as we did just last year in Ann Arbor.

Celebrated the equinox yesterday by attending meditation at the Crow Collection. Met some interesting people there and ate lunch with them and our instructor afterwards. That was a much more meaningful way to spend the afternoon than forcing myself through more philosophy of science texts for my Ph.D. even though I know I'll have to spend Friday doing just that.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Scarification

Despite always having a fondness for the scars that traverse my own skin, it wasn't until I met Chris in Japan that I learned I had (for lack of a better, less controversial term) a scar fetish. We had only met once at the Halloween party just a few days after I arrived, but we had hit it off, and we were drunk on absinthe and talking frankly about so many other things that evening in Hagi. He told me he had fallen out of a tree just weeks before leaving his home in New Zealand to commence his teaching position in Japan. So what; he fell out of a tree. I've known lots of people who have fallen out of trees, myself included. But then he told me about his scar and asked seditiously, "Do you want to see it?" "Sure," I replied nonchalantly. When he removed his shirt, I knew I was in love . . . with scars! That tree all those miles away in New Zealand had marked him for life. It was as if a great limb from that tree was now growing across Chris's back, forever tying him to that event. I developed a knew appreciation of my own scars as well as the scars of others.

Many people I've met over the past couple of years have had severe scarring on their arms or faces and necks. I want to travel those smooth pink streams that must have been created by horrible torrents of pain and agony. I've even started remembering scars I've encountered in the past, before I learned of my secret fetish. For example, during my first year in college I met Liz who had a scar on her hand. One day I touched it, and she twitched for several minutes afterwards.

My own scars have developed even more significance: the nice, straight scar on my head from chasing my sisters and aunt through a barbed-wire fence on my grandma's farm when I was probably five years old; the fat, thick scar on the back of my left leg caused by a rusted bicycle seat when I was in third grade; the horizontal, grinning scar on my right hand I gave myself while cleaning out a tin can for a science project; and the tiny, nick on my nose from a metal dump truck given to me on my second birthday.

Scars tell all kinds of stories and bind you to past events and people around the globe. I know I'll never forget Chris's scar; I was even tempted to ask to see it again when we hung out in London last December. Nor will I forget Olivier's scar on his hand from a drinking glass that broke while he was washing dishes (yeah, what were the chances of that!), particularly after I cursed him in such a way as to make my Gypsy grandmother--at least the one that taught me about the evil eye--proud: "Every time you look at that scar, I hope you remember how happy we were together." Someday he will die with that scar, remembering how happy he was all those years ago.

Now I have Stephen's trinity of scars from his appendectomy a couple of weeks ago to keep my morbid fascination company:

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Déjà Vu, or Here We Go Again

Déjà Vu: If It All Seems Familiar, There May Be a Reason
NY Times, September 14, 2004

New & interesting research being done on the experience of déjà vu, some of it just down the road at SMU. I spent a large chunk of my youth dealing with what I considered extreme & frequent cases of feeling like I had already experienced something before. And this evening while teaching, I had a mild episode of familiarity: the person, the conversation, the seating arrangement, my position in the classroom. It took me back to remembering how I felt when these episodes were so much more frequent & intense. I used to document them, noting location, duration, and situation. Some common characteristics of people who experience déjà vu include the following:
  • lively & frequently stimulated imagination
  • frequent travel
  • advanced education

Disappointing to find after all these years & strange experiences that I'm a textbook example for something that I used to consider made me unique. I've even had déjà vu partners or companions: people & friends that would experience déjà vu simultaneously with me, or people that would (as if) trigger déjà vu for me. Of course, like most things, these experiences have faded in intensity and frequency over the years. I sometimes wonder if déjà vu is connected to the linguistic part of the brain because conversations often trigger it. And conversations in other languages have made for some freaky encounters abroad, particularly with people with whom I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I could have never spoken before, especially in whatever particular language I was speaking to them in at the time. Perhaps sleep deprivation & insomnia somehow activate déjà vu as well. When the brain is tired and already tricky, you better watch out! he writes shortly after 2:00 AM after a long day of teaching, just one day after working nonstop for eleven hours. Too bad I can't just force myself into thinking that I'm still asleep and sweetly dreaming this entry, but then there would be nothing for you to read when you wake up in the morning sweetly refreshed from a restful slumber.


Saturday, September 11, 2004

Whose Tragedy is it Anyway?

Here is a letter to the editor I wrote to my (undergraduate) alma mater's newspaper regarding an on-campus commemoration in 2002 of the September 11th attacks. Perhaps there's something in it we can be reminded of again:
Although I fully support commemorating the events of September 11, 2001, and its victims, I have to respond to [your] casual use of 3,000 American flags to do so. Inappropriate is the symbol that does not point to the reality behind that symbol. Worse is any attempt to whitewash and distort that reality. I hope that in this case it is the former.

If we are sincerely commemorating the victims of the attacks, would it not be appropriate instead to acknowledge that almost one-sixth of the victims were not citizens of the United States? Why efface the nationality of almost 500 people? To lose one’s life one year in such a horrible event and then one’s nationality—albeit “symbolically”—a year later amounts to little more than revictimization. Could not a more meaningful yet less specific symbol have been found to embrace each individual we wish to memorialize?

The great tragedy of the attacks was the indiscriminate destruction of so many individuals. Let us not become complacent a year later and merely rely on the all-too-easy symbol of the American flag to give our exercise of grief ready-made meaning.
Almost immediately after the attacks, I began receiving emails and phone calls from all over the world, and I live a thousand miles away from the nearest attack! I'm glad I didn't know anyone flying that morning or working in southern New York City or at the Pentagon. For whatever reason, I became a bit obsessed with the workers of a Japanese firm. What were their families going through when as they were preparing to go to bed in Japan they heard the news of the first plane hitting?

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Psyche vs. Soma (Imprisoned in the Body)

Before heading into my humanities classroom this afternoon, a student stopped me to ask about the first writing assignment. I had stipulated that they could choose any text to write about as long as it had been created before they were born. My student wanted to write about a U2 song. I secretly hoped it was a song from Boy (1980), fearing it was more likely from The Joshua Tree (1987). I had to ask: it was "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from their 1983 album War. I was listening to that album when I was 15 and in high school, drugged into submission by the painkillers that my father took after one of his several back surgeries. A great song, a great album: "Brothers, sisters torn apart." It was released a year before my student was born. And the circle of life continues.

Heard a snippet of Brainstorm's "Maybe" on PRI's The World during the drive back home. Not only had I forgotten all about that song and that band, but I forgot how much I loved that song. This rediscovery prompted me to foolishly spend my down town searching the Internet for a copy of their album Online. (To save you time, you can order your own copy at BalticShop.com.) It's funny that over the past couple of years I've been seriously trying to recreate my personal music collection to resemble what I heard while I was living in Central Europe. Dare I just move back?

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

London Blitz / Quiet Patriotism for All

Yesterday--the anniversary of the beginning of Nazi Germany's blitz over London--I sent the saddest, most pathetic email of my life to that great city on the Thames. Oh, London, we hardly knew ye!

The (extreme) right candidate & why he's the wrong candidate: Our fidiotic (and yes, I'm sure you know what the F stands for) vice president said today that if we elect John Kerry president, the US will be vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Hmm. With this "logic," we can assume that under President Bush there have never been any terrorist attacks. It was all a bad dream.... Thanks, W., for making the world so gawddamned safe.

General Pinochet has lost his immunity and now can be tried for being the cruel, inhuman piece of shit he always was. Now if only something could be done to bring justice to the American bastards in the CIA who put him in power in the first place. (By the way, I just visited the CIA web site and thought this entry under "Values" was interesting: "Service, sacrifice, flexibility, teamwork, and quiet patriotism are our hallmarks. " Quiet--or rather covert--patriotism indeed!)

On the days that I could actually sleep in and get more rest, I toss and turn; on the days I have to get up and out and on the road, I'm stuck in a stupor from not sleeping well the night before. Damn those alien implants! They probably explain why my application to the CIA didn't survive the phone interview all those years ago. Some arrogant, piece-of-shit bureaucrat "interviewed" me by phone when I returned a call asking me to schedule an interview. It was all quite surreal, having an advanced degree and at least 3 languages on my tongue at the time, to be talked down to and ridiculed when I tried to explain why my reading skills in Japanese were scored differently than my speaking skills. Let's see: when you speak, you don't need to know 3000 Chinese hieroglyphics! I guess teaching myself Japanese while I lived in Japan was a waste of time as far as Agent X was concerned. I'm glad (looking back, of course) that I didn't get to the next round: every job I've had, I've had to deal with the frustration of being the most intelligent and enlightened cog in the wheel. Can you imagine how frustrated I'd be in the so-called intelligence community! Agent X: analyze this.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Push butt / Rub hand gently under arm / Stop auto at ally

I think I shall go into cryptology--not necessarily breaking codes so much as creating new, indecipherable ones.

It would be more useful than soap star (estrella de la telenovela) . I just don't have it in me anymore to care about the drama of small & pathetic people. Class dismissed. Now go home and think about all I tried to teach you.

And no, this isn't about you . . . anymore than it's really about me. Just like the last entry: there was no specific object to my hatred & disgust. It was pure & uncompromised by any other person.

We shall see. We shall see.